Phagotrophic Phytoflagellates across Ecosystems: Their Functional Role in the Southern Ocean and Mid-Atlantic Vernal Pools
|Sanders, Robert W.
|Van Kuren, Andrew
|Much of the world’s aquatic food webs and nutritional relationships have been blurred by the ever-increasing evidence that many phytoplankton are not exclusively heterotrophic or autotrophic, but instead mixotrophic. Mixotrophy is a continuum of different energy and carbon-acquisition mechanisms utilizing both autotrophy and heterotrophy which distorts the concept of single trophic tier modality. This makes mixotrophs flexible to adapt to environmental pressures and is becoming more the rule than the exception in many aquatic ecosystems. One unique environmental setting where mixotrophy could be highly beneficial to food web stability is in seasonally occurring ephemeral pools – aka vernal pools. Mid-Atlantic vernal pools are biodiverse biogeochemical hotspots and critical breeding habitats for a diverse number of endemic taxa including many endangered amphibian species. Vernal pools are not permanent standing bodies of water and have fluxes in hydrology, temperatures, nutrients, and irradiance to name a few. These extremes make vernal pools an ideal setting for mixotrophic phytoplankton, however it’s never been investigated. Our survey found mixotrophy in every vernal pool sampled, as well as elevated grazing rates in pools experiencing nontypical seasonal conditions. From these small-scale forest pools to the world’s oceans mixotrophy is a widespread nutritional strategy. The Southern Ocean is essential for powering worldwide ocean circulation, regional biogeochemical cycles, and global climate. One of the major hurdles with understanding mixotrophy is identifying the phytoplankton capable of shifting nutritional strategies. While many Southern Ocean plankters have been properly identified as mixotrophic, one such keystone species has gone mislabeled until now. Phaeocystis antarctica is a well-studied Haptophyte algae that plays major roles in the global carbon and sulfur cycles. This species has been historically labeled as an obligate phototroph, but contradictory survives the long dark Antarctic winter without any known evidence of encystment. We suspect that this highly abundant species is in fact mixotrophic, capable of phagocytosis to supplement the irradiance shortcomings of the Antarctic dark. We experimented with varying degrees of light and nutrient limitations to determine possible triggers for P. antarctica grazing. Our results showed P. antarctica ingesting in every treatment, but its highest grazing rates corresponded with limitations to its primary photosynthetic mode. Apart from the newly realized complexity P. antarctica brings to the Southern Ocean food web, it is an environment that suffers from microplastic pollution that can impede these mixotrophic species. Mismanaged plastic waste around the world, especially microfiber discharge from laundered synthetic textiles, escape into the natural environment, and eventually concentrate in the oceans. The Southern Ocean can become disproportionately polluted in regions due to microfibers becoming sequestered once crossing the Antarctic circumpolar current and even becoming trapped in sea-ice formations. While it is easy to see the devastation plastic waste has on megafauna (i.e. turtles, fish, birds, and whales), its microscopic devastation is less obvious. Plastic waste comes in many forms and one less researched form is buoyant polyester microfibers <1mm that interact with colony forming algae. We utilized different concentrations of polyester microfibers and mixing speeds to determine if microfiber interactions with colony formations increases or decreases overall colony buoyancy. Smaller concentrations of polyester microfibers can impart a positively buoyant effect onto P. antarctica colonies regardless of mixing speed, however larger concentrations negatively affected colony buoyancy regardless of mixing speed.
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|Phagotrophic Phytoflagellates across Ecosystems: Their Functional Role in the Southern Ocean and Mid-Atlantic Vernal Pools
|Sanders, Robert W.
|Cordes, Erik E.
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